We often take for granted the fuel that we put into our car on a regular basis, and are sometimes ignorant of the different types of fuel that are available. One question that people often wonder about is whether or not you can put racing fuel in a normal car.
You can put some racing fuels in normal cars, but there is no real reason for you to do this. These fuels have higher octane ratings, so are designed to perform at higher temperatures and pressures. There is generally no noticeable performance gain when they are used to fuel consumer vehicles.
There are several reasons that you probably wouldn’t want to put racing fuel in your normal car. However, it is not going to end up damaging your car too much if you do. There are some types of racing fuel that would cause damage to your car, and we will discuss them in detail below.
Some Basic Information About Your Car’s Engine
Before we discuss the consequences of using the wrong type of fuel in your car, you should first understand how fuel works in the first place. There are lots of different chemical reactions taking place in your car at one time, and it can get quite complicated. We will focus on traditional fuels in this article, without getting into the details of electric or hydrogen powered cars.
The Combustion Engine
In a traditional combustion engine car, you power the vehicle using liquid fuel. This usually comes with a certain octane rating, and each of these has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, the basic premise is that fuel is injected into the cylinders of the engine with a mixture of air and a spark plug ignites it, pushing a piston downwards.
This action moves what is called the crankshaft, which eventually transfers energy through various other components and drives the wheels of the car. This is obviously a very basic explanation, and there are many other components to consider. However, the key thing to note is that it is essentially a bunch of small fuel-based explosions that eventually drive the wheels.
The Importance Of Choosing The Right Fuel
So, the fuel that you put into your car is essential, and the type of fuel used will affect how efficient your engine is. In some cases, the type of fuel that you use can affect more than the engine’s efficiency, and it can even destroy your engine if you are not careful. To work out why this might happen, let’s take a look at the different types of fuel that you can buy.
What Kinds Of Fuel Can You Buy?
Traditional unleaded fuel, usually 87 octane gasoline, is the most common type of fuel that most cars use. This is the kind of fuel that you probably fill your car with on a regular basis, and there is good reason for this. It provides a reasonable amount of efficiency while still being cost effective. It contains additives to prevent what is known as engine knocking.
Octane Number & Engine Knocking
Engine knocking is essentially the premature combustion of the fuel and air mixture in your engine, and it used to be a very big problem for car owners. Lead was used in fuels as an anti-knocking agent, but it was found to be highly poisonous. It also poisons the catalytic converters that almost all modern cars contain, and so its use in road cars was banned in the late 90s.
The safer additives that you will find in 87 octane fuel prevent most engine knocking, but at very high temperatures, such as those experienced in a high-performance car, knocking can still occur. This is where higher octane rated fuel, such as 90+ octane gasoline, comes in. the higher-octane number essentially means these fuels are more resistant to premature combustion.
Racing fuels can have octane ratings above 110, which is significantly higher than those used in your average car. These are used in high performance cars to cope with the high pressures and temperatures that will be regularly experienced in a racecar engine being pushed to its limits. These are not usually the kinds of fuel you will find at your regular gas station.
Diesel & Methanol
Then there is diesel, which is quite rare in the United States but is common in Europe and many other parts of the world. Diesel engines actually rely on automatic ignition within the cylinders, with no spark plugs present. It is a more efficient fuel than gasoline, but it emits more particulates and noxious gases, making it undesirable for a lot of communities.
There are then of course biofuels, such as ethanol. These are fuels that are made from renewable farming sources, often from corn, and can also achieve relatively high-octane ratings. You get less energy from burning ethanol than you do from gasoline, but the higher-octane number makes it a popular alternative for high performance cars.
Which Type Of Fuel Is Right For Your Car?
Stick To 87 Octane
Usually, the right type of fuel for your car will be regular 87 octane gasoline. Most cars are designed to work at engine temperatures that do not require much in the way of anti-knocking, high octane ratings. However, if you do own a high-performance car, you may be required to use more premium gas to prevent a loss of power, or damage to your engine.
If you own a diesel car however, you should only ever put diesel into it. If you own a gasoline car, you should never put diesel into it. This is really the only steadfast rule that you should never break when it comes to fuel choice. Diesel in a gasoline car will not evaporate and can cause a lot of expensive damage. Gas in a diesel car also causes very costly damage to the engine.
What Is Racing Fuel?
Racing fuel, as we have touched on briefly already, is fuel with a very high-octane rating, usually around 100 or above. Essentially this means that these fuels can withstand higher temperatures and pressures before they auto ignite. This resistance to burning under high pressure and high temperature is what makes racing fuels so desirable for high performance cars.
Specific Types Of Racing Fuel
For specific racing disciplines, there are specific racing fuels. NASCAR racers for example use racing fuel with an octane rating of 98, while Indy Cars use pure methanol which can have an octane number of 110+. Other racing fuels, such as nitromethane, are used exclusively in ultra-high demand racing such as drag racing.
What Happens If You Put Racing Fuel In Your Normal Car?
When you put racing fuel in your normal car, nothing interesting normally happens. You may notice some very slight performance benefits if you were to really push your car to its limits, but this isn’t likely to be noticeable, and it usually won’t damage your car either.
Obviously, you would not be able to put nitromethane into your normal car, so in terms of racing fuel we will only be referring to the high octane, unleaded gasoline options that are available to consumers. Methanol is also not what we will be considering here, as your engine would have to be designed to take a methanol-heavy fuel to be compatible.
Nothing Really Happens
So, what would happen if you were to add high octane unleaded racing fuel to your normal car? Well, not very much. If you were to drive around normally, you wouldn’t notice a difference in performance. However, if you were to push your car to its limits, you might notice some power differences, but again it really would not be that much.
An Expensive Alternative
The main difference you would notice would be the price. Racing fuel of a high-octane rating tends to be much more expensive, sometimes 5 times as much as regular 87 octane gasoline. So, unless you have a high-performance car there really is no point buying racing fuel if you are expecting to gain a power or speed advantage.
Nothing To Worry About
But if you accidentally bought it and were worried that it would damage your car, rest assured that there should be no lasting damage. However, there have been issues in the past with vehicle warranties being affected by the addition of incorrect fuel, so do try to avoid it when you can just in case.
If you were to put leaded gasoline into your car, which is still sometimes used in racing, you would definitely notice a difference. Leaded fuel can damage oxygen sensors, as well as poison catalytic converters as we have touched on already. Leaded fuel is no longer sold at gas stations for these reasons, and if you ever accidentally add leaded fuel to your car, you need to call an expert.
The short answer to the question of whether or not you can put racing fuel into your normal car is yes, however it does depend on which type of racing fuel you add. Unleaded high-octane racing fuel is fine to add to your car, and you won’t notice much of a difference apart from the exorbitantly higher price.
Leaded fuels, methanol fuels and even nitromethane fuels are used exclusively for racing in most cases, unless you have an engine designed to run on methanol. These fuels should definitely be avoided due to the damage they can cause to your car and the health risks that they present, and most of the time you will never come across them accidentally anyway.